Sam Hellman / Scout

Back from Injury, DeShawn Freeman Welcomes Reinforcements in the Paint

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- DeShawn Freeman's first year at Rutgers brought more lows than highs. With new responsibilities and an overhauled program, could the red-shirt junior become a double-double player in his return from injury?

After last season, DeShawn Freeman doesn't mind being seen as the little guy. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound red-shirt junior was one of the Scarlet Knights' best power players in the post at this time last year. After a year of changes, including a new coach, Freeman is no longer “the big guy.”

It's funny,” Freeman said. “I'm actually the shortest big man we got. Compared to last year, I'm pretty happy about that situation.”

While new big guys, 7-foot CJ Gettys and 6-foot-9 Candido Sa, join healthier 7-foot Shaq Doorson and 6-foot-10 Ibrahima Diallo, Freeman still says “feed me more.”

Rebounding wise, last year we had like two big men doing it,” Freeman said. “Now we have a few. Now we have guards that have pretty good size on them. As far as the rebounding that really killed us last year, I think it's going to help a lot this year.”

Between a season-ending injury before Big Ten play even started and a brief suspension, Freeman's first year was a frustrating one. Unable to practice after his injury, Freeman watched his teammates win just four games and lose 21 without his presence on the court.

I don't think anybody likes to sit,” Freeman said. “It was bad. It was really bad. Just bad.”

Freeman returned to basketball activity during the coaching transition. He does not yet consider himself 100 percent, but he is close.

Most of all, I'm just happy to be back on the court,” Freeman said. “It's good to be back playing with my teammates every day. I feel like we have a chance to be really good this year. … It's been a little while. It's been a while since I've played, so I'm starting to get back into game shape

I really can move now. I had a stress reaction in my knee cap. Now, I'm like taking it a day at a time trying to get back into it. I'm not trying to go fully yet, but I know I'm getting there.”

Freeman played in seven games and started five last year before his knee injury. The junior-college transfer originally from North Carolina was a top early player for Eddie Jordan with 13.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

New coach Steve Pikiell and Freeman both hope for a double-double season as an impact player at power forward.

I'm going to try,” Freeman said. “That's the main thing. I try every day. Hopefully that happens.”

Defense and rebounding were the focuses early in preseason practice. Freeman bought in quickly after the return from knee rehabilitation.

I'm happy with the bigs,” Pikiell said. “They've improved the most, so I'm happy with that. ... DeShawn is doing great. They're starting to learn how to rebound and attack the glass. We had a lot of watchers in the past. Now they're active in going to rebound.”

Freeman works often on his defense and post moves with assistant Jay Young, who joined Pikiell after a decade at Stony Brook.

They have a lot of energy,” Freeman said. “Coach Pikiell is a really guy. Coach Young and Pikiell are coming in here with a lot of energy. That brings energy for the rest of the team. Brandin Knight and coach [Karl] Hobbs, all of them bring a lot of energy and that's what we need this year.”

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